By Raxa Mehta
Of the many events in 2015, one of the most meaningful will be the 70th anniversary of the end of World War II. We will celebrate not just the end of a dreadful tyranny but also 70 years of unprecedented peace amongst the countries that form Western Europe.
Is it a mere coincidence that these countries have been at peace since 1945, despite the cold war, despite various global crises such as Suez, Cuba, the revolutions of South America and the turbulence of emerging countries in Africa to which so many Asians fell victim? Could it be that finding a common interest, a common purpose, has created an environment in which ‘wars’ are more about agricultural policies and disputes about rebates, than about territories and aggression for dominance?
The creation of a European Economic Community in 1957, what we now call the European Union, has contributed to these seven decades of relative peace and security in this region. And after the fall of the Berlin Wall the countries of Eastern Europe were gradually brought into the fold too. Democracy and the rule of law were extended to former Soviet bloc states without a shot being fired. And waging wars amongst countries that are economic and trading partners has been made unthinkable.
If that in itself is not reason enough to remain a part of this important establishment, one needs only to look at the fields in which Europe has collectively taken a leading position in the world – science and innovation, engineering, climate change, human rights, diversity and equality.
During 2014, UKIP has channeled the debate on Europe to a single issue – immigration. While few people believed that all 27 million Romanians and Bulgarians would be booking flights to come to the UK, and that ridiculous claim has been spectacularly debunked, there is some concern that they are coming in sufficient numbers to put further pressure on already creaking social services. Is immigration bad for business? I think not.
The diaspora that left Uganda and Kenya in the early 1970’s will recall the ‘rivers of blood’ speeches by right wing politicians, and the hostility with which we were received when we landed on the shores of the UK, mostly with very little money, compensated by a huge sense of relief having fled from the tyranny of Idi Amin and the Mau Mau terrorists.
We were grateful for the security and stability that Britain provided us, and even more grateful for the opportunities and social mobility that we found here.
Migrants as a general rule are hard working and enterprising – it is those people who want to better the lives of their families that tend to leave the familiar comforts of their homes in search of opportunities elsewhere. It takes a generation of migrants to settle and transform from consumers of social services to tax contributors.
Like many of the Asian East African Diaspora, my parents were light on wealth but heavy on aspiration. Over the last 40 years, the generation of those early migrants has created wealth by entrepreneurial ventures, investments, sheer hard work, or rising to the top of their professional fields. We now have children, those second generation citizens, who are highly educated and are young professionals making their own contributions to the wealth of this nation. So why pull up the drawbridge for the aspiring migrants from parts of Europe when they too can soon become net contributors to the wealth of this nation?
Voices of reason on Europe are few and far between – we get incessant coverage but very little information. Organisations like British Influence, the cross-party campaign to keep Britain in Europe, point out that Europe isn’t perfect but it can only be reformed from within.
As an owner of a digital social enterprise, I could not agree more. I want to see the single market completed, extended to services and not just goods. We need reforms to harmonise the digital economy – today many services are online – but protectionism in many countries prevent this sector from reaching its full potential. Excessive red tape and stifling bureaucracy hold back enterprise.
We can leave and remain neighbour to an unreformed Europe, and pay a higher price to trade with our biggest market. Or Britain can lead the EU to implement the reforms required for commerce in the 21st century. As the general election approaches and the voices of the xenophobes and the Europhobes get louder, we should make our choice and add our voices to the lead-not-leave side of the debate.
(The writer is a social entrepreneur and founder and CEO of Chilipopcorn)